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“Back off Chalmers” campaign in Edinburgh gains momentum

A group of University of Edinburgh students have started a campaign to establish 100 metre buffer zones around sexual health clinics that offer abortion services in Edinburgh, in a bid to protect those accessing the services from anti-abortion protestors. 

The “Back Off Chalmers” campaign’s petition has already received over 5,000 signatures since it was first published on the 9th November and the organisation has recruited 60 volunteers to assist with its digital campaign.

The campaign was founded by a fourth year University of Edinburgh student, Ella Cheney, in October in response to a group of anti-choice protestors who protest regularly outside the Chalmers Street sexual health clinic. 

The group, part of a wider campaign known as “40 Days for Life”, hold “vigils” outside of the clinic. 

The group claims to have stopped their protest as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic on the 10th November. 

Yet an investigation by The Student found that an independent group, who had previously taken part in the “40 Days for Life” protest, have continued to hold protests outside of the clinic and intend to carry on despite the ongoing restrictions on household interactions. 

In a document seen by The Student, the independent anti-abortion protestors lay out rules that dictate that they must not approach anyone trying to access the services of the clinic and must only engage with members of the public who first interact with them.

Despite this, “Back Off Chalmers” received testimonials from members of the public who claim they were “accosted” by the group. 

Currently, Scottish law gives police the power to issue dispersal orders where the public have become alarmed or distressed by the behaviour of a group of two or more people. 

The Scottish government have previously indicated that they believe this gives the police adequate power to break up anti-abortion protests at clinics should they feel the need to. 

However, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service believe that “new legislation is needed to protect those seeking to access legal, confidential healthcare services and protect abortion clients’ Article 8 right to privacy”. 

Head of Policy for the “Back off Chalmers” campaign, University of Edinburgh student Lucy Grieve, told The Student

“Whilst we want clinics throughout Edinburgh that provide abortion services to be free of harassment and accessible to all, ultimately, we believe that this should be formally written into national law. 

“Going forward, we are looking to expand into different regions of Scotland and start a number of local petitions with the hope that our campaign will put enough pressure on the government to act.” 

Speaking about the stigma around accessing birth control and abortion services in university culture and society, Grieve said: 

“I think that stigma around accessing abortion services, as well as reproductive and sexual health services more broadly, still occurs throughout society.

“In addition to our campaign that aims to protect women, trans men and non-binary people in Edinburgh with 100m buffer zones around clinics that provide abortion services, other groups affiliated with the university such as CERT are doing great work to reduce stigma and promote an inclusive and open dialogue about reproductive and sexual health choices.” 

“Back Off Chalmers” are currently engaging with the Edinburgh University Student’s Association welfare officer but have indicated that they would welcome more collaboration and engagement with the Student’s Association and the University of Edinburgh in the coming months. 

They are currently collaborating with Lighthouse Books, a bookshop in Edinburgh, who are donating 15 per cent of the proceeds of their book sales in November to assist with the campaign’s fundraising efforts. 

Image: openDemocracy via Flickr